Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hate Crimes Directed at Homeless People

Tune into "60 Minutes" this Weekend

In 2003, three teenagers from Youngstown came to Cleveland to use a stun gun on people sleeping outside on Public Square. Their car broke down, and they were helped by a good Samaritan who had previous experience with homelessness. The Good Samaritan caught onto what they were doing and called the police, which was easy since their car broke down in front of the Justice Center. Homeless people were victimized by these young people and then again by the judicial system that charged these evil kids with misdemeanors and let them off with 6 months of weekend only community service.

In Florida in early 2006, three kids beat a homeless individual to death in front of a public building. They used a baseball bat on a number of homeless people which resulted in the death of one of those individuals. Both the Cleveland and Florida attacks were captured on videotape. The news program "60 Minutes" will feature a story by Ed Bradley about these and other attacks on homeless people this weekend. Sunday after football (sometime after 7 p.m.) "60 Minutes" will look at the National Coalition for the Homeless and their work to protect homeless people. Please tune in to the local CBS affiliate at 7 p.m. on Channel 19.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Colorado Voice Mail Criticized

Anyone Can Get on the Radio Today

Although best known for being a carrier of the West Nile Virus, one would be surprised to know Peter Boyles also hosts an AM radio talk show called "The Peter Boyles Show." On this show, he has been complaining about Colorado Community Voice Mail, a program like our own Cleveland Community Voice Mail with which I am affiliated. His complaints are based entirely within the realm of fantasy, much like the works of L. Ron Hubbard (ball's in your court, scientology!).

Boyles, after dealing with whatever mild to severe symptoms associated with his mosquito-spread disease, assumed "Community Voice Mail" meant "free cell phones." From the article referenced above:

BOYLES: "Yeah, and so, how does a homeless person access a voice mail box -- some 4,000 -- unless they are given a phone?"

I included the "Yeah, and so," just to show how inarticulate he is. What he presents here is a logical argument for how he came to the realization that homeless people have cell phones. How else could they have access to a voice mail box? In much the same way one could show no symptoms and still carry the West Nile Virus, a homeless person can have no government funded cellphone and still have a voice mail box. That's how CVM works. It's for people without phones. Again, it's for people WITHOUT PHONES. From the article:

BOYLES: "Well, there's plenty of people, once again -- workaday people, hard workers, family people -- they don't have cellphones. Now how come a homeless guy -- 4,000 of them -- these phones -- were given out, Bob?"

I hate to tell you, Mr. Boyles, but your question in that last quote would give most English teachers a headache not unlike one associated with WNV (West Nile Virus). I hate to just harp on your grammar. Wait, no I don't. I love to harp on your grammar. Why? You're a bully trying to push around people actually trying to make a difference in this world. The idiocy in your inability to drawl out a logical sentence while making an ineffectual argument for a stance mired in your own accidental lies is worthy of a verbal attack not unlike the mockery brought down from the trickster gods of ancient religions.

In closing, I would like to say that next week I will have been serving for the social good for a year, and in that year, every person I have seen is smarter than Mr. Boyles. I know this because not one of them showed up to CCVM demanding a cellphone. Even if one may have thought it might be possible that they could get a cellphone, none were stupid enough to believe in an assumption strong enough to make a fool of themselves over AM radio waves.

Go back to the playground, Mr. Boyles. These are the big leagues. We know our song well before we start singing.


For more information visit the Cleveland Community Voice Mail website.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

CMHA Annual Plan

More Senior Housing For Some Reason

I have been so busy the last few weeks that I have not had time to keep my eye on the Housing Authority. Every year at this time, they send around their Annual Plan for comment to be approved by their board in October. The Annual Plan is mandated by the federal government that every housing authority must complete in order to lay out all policy initiatives and capital projects for the next year. Usually only the Homeless Coalition, the Tenants Organization, and Legal Aid Society make any comment at all. This year, I did not get a chance to be a part of the process until the last day of public comment--Friday.

CMHA actually has a very good public process for gathering comments. They listen to us and make changes based on our input. Sure there a few things that we disagree on, but they still seem to be respectful of their partners and constituents. We believe that this planning process is healthy and we think CMHA does treat us with respect. I really believe that the agency is better because they run things by us before making mistakes.

So, they have put out their plan. Here are the highlights of the changes:
  • They clarified the preference for those facing a natural disaster, which was always very confusing.
  • They got rid of their confusing policy for those with a voucher that gave a preference to those working.
  • They have passed along the federal rules making athletic scholarships part of a student's income.
  • They are designating a building in Garden Valley for seniors (50 years old and older) only.
  • They are adopting the federal rules from the Violence Against Women Act.
  • They are clarifying the rules regarding recertification.
Some on-going issues that they will not change that we disagree with every year in their Annual Plan include:
  • We do not agree that some properties that are privately owned and have a set number of vouchers attached to some of their units, a landlord can go outside the existing 6,000 person voucher waiting list for tenants. After a landlord interviews 5 candidates and they find these 5 from the waiting list not acceptable they can go find their own tenants.
  • We believe that they need to put more language into protect women who have experienced domestic violence as part of the Violence Against Women Act.
  • We are always opposed to the designation of some buildings for only those 50 years and older. Sure, those 50 years and older are easier tenants to serve, but the overwhelming need in Cleveland is by tenants under 50 years of age. CMHA has designated over 20% of their total housing units for seniors, but the market is effectively serving this population. I do not understand why the City of Cleveland allows this continued loss of housing for the vast number of single people under 50 years of age looking for housing.
  • Finally, we always oppose the designation of minimum rents for the agency. To the public this is good to force people to pay some small amount for housing. "No one should get anything for free in our society," and all that welfare reform crap that we keep hearing. The problem is that residents who have no money are entitled to file for a hardship exemption. How do they do that if they are not told or it is difficult to get this information? It is similar to passing a tax on only those smokers who enter the two stadiums to pay for the buildings, but everyone pays the tax upon entry. Then if you do not smoke, you must go fill out a form to be exempt from the tax. What is the reason for charging people if they have a right to be exempt? While reviewing their case every year, just give them the rent that they deserve based on their income.
Some other ideas that we suggest to improve CMHA include:
  • Close the public housing waiting list. It makes no sense to keep taking applications for housing when it will take five years for the person filling out an application today who is under 50 to get offered a unit. We suggest taking applications only from those who are over 50 years of age or older.
  • Figure out a way to accept public comments via the internet, and have those read into the record and included at the end of the Annual Plan on the website.
  • Also, since only a few people comment, the CMHA Board should answer the comments and explain why they reject our suggestions.
  • The agency should figure out a way to support the affordable housing website in the future as a tool for both landlords in the program and tenants.
  • CMHA needs to gather supporters to demand from HUD a real budget to improve the housing for those with lower incomes in the poorest city in America.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Homeless Organizing in Columbus

NEOCH 12 Years Ago

I had the honor to help the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless work through issues at their annual retreat. It was amazing how familiar the problems and issues faced by the Columbus Coalition are so very similar to the obstacles NEOCH faced about a dozen years ago. The Columbus Coalition has a few part time staff and they cannot find their footing in the community. They have board members who must focus on their own agency's survival or their own personal issues of stability and they cannot focus on getting the Coalition on its feet. They have a dominant coordinating body in the city, which makes it hard to raise money or step out from this larger organization's shadow.

NEOCH had all these issues a dozen years ago, after our first five years of funding ran out. We had a period of five years with staff and some programming that the Columbus Coalition never had, but we were facing huge decisions as they are down I-71. We found out that the community would not pay for advocacy. We found out that the service providers, who started our organization, could not afford to pay for our service in the long term. We found that the County entity (that we helped to start in order to coordinate services) confused funders as to what our role was in the community. We also had a divided board as to our basic role within the community and the importance of some of our programs. We figured it out and made some tough decisions to survive.

I hope that the Columbus Coalition will pull together to make some tough decisions. They can move to a full time staff person by putting in place solid programs desired by the community. They seem to have all the ingredients, but they need a strong chef to put it all together.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Broken Alcohol/Drug System

They Have it All Wrong

I am sitting in a meeting--minding my own business--not bothering anyone--when I am smacked right up side my head by another failed system in our community. I am listening to the presentations of why people sleep at the airport, and the problems with homeless people when a woman from the Alcohol and Drug Addictions Services Board of Cuyahoga County pipes up that she can assure us that she can get an "assessment" of those people sleeping at the airport within three days. She could not tell us how long it would take to get treatment, but at least we would have a confirmed diagnosis of alcohol or drug addiction within 72 hours. Thank you for nothing. What the hell good is that to the community? The smell of alcohol and the unresponsiveness was my first indication that there was a problem beyond the casual after work cocktail, but of course I can't pass out those certifications.

Imagine the riots in the streets if you showed up at MetroHealth with a gun shot wound and they rushed out within three hours to "assess" you with a diagnosis of an lacerated artery that will need surgery. Then the kind nurse informed you that the doctors were not available and there is no time frame when that surgery could actually happen, but at least you can rest easy with your certified diagnosis. Yes, Rest in Peace easy. How could this ever be considered progress? What is the use in telling someone they have a problem if you are not prepared to solve it. "Frank, you have colon cancer, now go out and enjoy the rest of the day because we have no idea when we can do anything else." And for someone with an addiction telling them that they have an addiction, but that you have no idea when or how you will treat them without money is just what they need to hear to keep them from drinking or injecting.

I would quit my job before I would ever brag that a three day assessment is progress. More people in the homeless community have a drug or alcohol problem than a mental health problem and yet the Alcohol Services get a tiny amount of money compared to Mental Health. It is a joke, and they should just close their doors. At this point, I really think that they do more harm then good in our community. Most of the beds were purchased by the courts so basically you have to go to jail to get residential treatment. You really have to way to cure yourself to get help and then they will let you go to volunteer driven AA classes or you have to be near death and they will give you a couple of days of detox. How does this help us?

I don't want people to think that we do not appreciate the work of the alcohol and drug case workers, but the best in the business get burnt out quickly. It is strange because alcohol and drugs hit the wealthy, the middle class and the poor, but we do a pathetic job of treating this health condition. You really have to destroy your life, the life of others around you, burn all your bridges and most of the time commit a crime before someone sends you some help. Then we punish you with a shelter and force you to live by some rules until you have are sufficiently repentant that you no longer have the addiction. At least, we now can assure that you will get assessed within three days.

Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Are People Moving Away from High Poverty?

Child Poverty in 2005

Back in the welfare reform debate of the late 1990s, the officials told us that people do not move for benefits. The experts said that it has never been the case that people move from one area especially one state to another in order to get better entitlements. But now living in Cleveland and experiencing decreases in jobs for six straight years, I have to believe that some of our population loss has to do with lower income people looking for better places to live. In looking at the poverty statistics for Ohio, I have to wonder if some are not making calculations about the State of Ohio and the safety of raising their family in this environment.
  • How many kids will get a good education with such an unfair system for funding schools?
  • How many of my kids will have the opportunity to go to college in Ohio with such high tuition rates? Maybe moving to another state to establish residency would be beneficial?
  • If I loose my job will I be able to find another before ruining my family?
  • Will I be able to find a job with health care? If I do lose my health care will the state be able to afford to provide any health care beyond the emergency room?
  • Will I need to go into bankruptcy or will I be taken advantage of by a mortgage broker?
  • Will three years of cash assistance be enough when nearly every other state gives five years? If I exhaust my three years, what is the use of staying in Ohio?
  • Why not move to another state that has a higher minimum wage?
  • What is the use of relatively inexpensive housing if you have no job?
  • Would rental assistance be more available in another state?
At this point in the recession, these questions have to come up. There must be a great deal of anger over the lack of help by our government. There was assistance for those fleeing Katrina, but what about the home grown poor? There is money for playgrounds like stadiums, but not for people. I would be angry if I went to the election booth and saw a levy on the ballot for the arts, while I struggle to find a job. How do they justify paying for art while my child's school is in bad shape and I can't find a job? How do they justify raising taxes for art, while I can't pay my rent? Anger, frustration, a feeling of hopelessness, and then resignation and moving to a state that cares, would be how I would react.

Here are the statistics from the U.S. Census on poverty by County. By the way, Ohio 's official poverty rate was 13.0% of the population is living below poverty with 18.2% of our children living in poverty in Ohio. These are in order of the Counties around Cleveland and the other big cities in Ohio from poorest to better off.

County % Living Below Poverty % Children Living Below Poverty
1. Lucas County (Toledo) 17.4% 25.3%
2.Cuyahoga (Cleveland) 16.9% 25.1%
3. Columbiana 16.3% 26.4%
4. Ashtabula 16.1% 23.3%
5. Montgomery (Dayton) 14.7% 23.4%
6. Franklin (Columbus) 14.5% 19.8%
7. Erie County 14.0% 21.8%
8. Hamilton (Cincinnati) 13.8% 19%
9.Mahoning (Youngstown) 13.4% 20%
10. Stark (Canton) 12.0% 18.1%
11. Lorain County 11.7% 17.6%
12. Portage County 11.4% 15.5%
13. Summit (Akron) 11.2% 14.4%
14. Trumbull County 10.7% 15.4%
15. Lake County 8.3% 12.9%

Those Counties Doing Best in Ohio
1. Delaware County (near Columbus) 4.6% 5.5%
2. Warren County 5.1% 4.8%
3. Medina County 5.3% 6.6%
4. Geauga County 5.6% ---
5. Tuscarawas County 7.3% 8.1%

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ohio Department of Apartheid

Why the High Number of African Americans in Prison??

Friday September 8, the Urban Institute announced preliminary results from their Justice Policy Center study called "Returning Home: Experiences of Former Prisoners Residing in Cleveland" at the Cleveland Food Bank. This got no coverage in the Plain Dealer today, but was picked up by WKSU and WCPN. NEOCH attended the forum for the release of information. What we found to be the most amazing statistic that was not mentioned in the other media was the high number of African Americans returning from incarceration. This is the most damning statistic on the current state of Ohio with 53% of those leaving prison in Ohio are identified as "Black" while only 11.5% of the population of Ohio are "African American Only" according to the US Census. In Greater Cleveland 74% of those returning from prison are African American while only 28.9% of Cuyahoga County identify themselves as African American.

How can this not be identified as an Apartheid system? Are we enslaving a generation of African Americans through the judiciary instead of the public auction used from 1699 to 1865 in America? I do not understand why this fact is ignored? Why is this huge disparity not the focus of this report or at least mentioned boldly? It is just used as a dry fact in a lengthy report about the current state of our misnamed "Corrections and Rehabilitation" system. It is accepted as a reality that the percentage of those in the prison population contain four times as many African Americans as the population of Ohio. How is their not rioting over the incarceration disparity in Ohio? I do not understand how the large number of African American "Corrections" officers do not see this new form of slavery and speak out? How can the prison work industry not be viewed as the modern cotton field? I am floored by this disparity. How can we demonstrate to caring people that if all 5,300 returning from prison to Cuyahoga County every year were gathered together in one place only 18% or 985 people would have white faces.

Other statistics that are troubling from this report:
**47% of those returning from prison have a violent offense in their background. (Not the one tenth of one percent mentioned by Geoff in the Callahan police shooting discussion.)
**Only 27% of those in prison received any type of counseling which includes mental health counseling.
**Only 31% have lived with a spouse or partner or alone after their release. 4 out of 5 rely on family for housing after release.
**Prior to prison, 84% reported drug use or intoxication with half reporting daily drug or alcohol use. After release, 23% still report drug use or intoxication in last 30 days.
**Only 30% report legal employment upon release with another 23% reporting "under the table employment."
**Only 39% report participation in post-release programming.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Friday, September 08, 2006

County Helping Homeless to Vote

Shelters Now Active in Registration of Homeless People

NEOCH is often criticized for only giving the bad news. We also constantly harp on the lack of accountability within the system. I mean if a corporation had 10 straight years of losses it is unthinkable that the existing leadership would be able to keep their jobs. But in the social service community 10 years of increases in homelessness can be blamed on something else or just plain ignored. We have to go before our constituency every few weeks, so it is easy to see why we are impatient with the slow progress made in addressing poverty. But today we give you some good news undertaken by your government.

We must credit the great job that the County Office of Homeless Services has done in making sure that homeless people are registered to vote. It is funny that now that the state has put huge barriers in the way of homeless people voting is the time that the County steps up their efforts. We certainly appreciate their efforts and have asked for every provider be required to register people upon entry for years. We finally wrote a letter to the Commissioners late last year asking for some intervention in getting every homeless person to vote, and that seems to have happened.

The OHS staff are strongly encouraging every publicly funded facility to assure that they are registering people. They are collaborating with Ohio Votes to make sure that every staff person knows the rules and can encourage their clients to go vote. Each provider needed to put in a plan for how to register and get all their clients to vote. They are regularly updating the providers about new issues regarding voting. So, the Coalition thanks Cuyahoga County for helping to empower homeless people.

NEOCH is supporting this effort with two training sessions in collaboration with Ohio Votes coming up:
**Friday September 15, 2006 at 1:30 pm.
**Tuesday September 19, 2006 at 11:00 a.m.

Both will be at NEOCH and will last one hour. Please call if you would like to attend at 216/432-0540.

Brian Davis
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Peace Show Next Door to the War Show

A Celebration of Ione Biggs at the Peace Show

Labor Day brings the annual tradition of the Peace Show interrupted frequently by the War Show at Burke Lake Front Airport. This year was a remembrance of Ione Biggs who passed away in December of 2005. Also, 5 Catholic Worker protesters were arrested for praying under the wing of a War Plane at the Air Show. This is not homeless news except that our good friend, Jim Schlecht who does outreach to homeless people, was also arrested and will sit in jail until Tuesday. They stood singing under a war plane to let people know that the entire "Air Show" glorified war and killing people. Imagine, arrested for putting a sobering tone on "entertainment," while we occupy another country and our sons and daughters in Iraq hope and pray every night that the road below them does not blow up.

So, I was asked to say a few words about Ms. Biggs. I know that if Ione were still alive she would be protesting the arrest at the War Show or down talking to those waiting in jail by using her connections in the corrections system. Anyway, I wish Daniel were here because he would know what to say a lot better than most of the rest of us. When Ione got the award from her church, Daniel revised one of his poems to fit the occasion. Poets are the life blood of social justice movements.
"The homeless community lost one of our strongest champions with the passing of Ione Biggs. She was not loud or "in your face" about her passions, but was powerful in a quiet dignified manner. She gave great advice, and knew what would work and what would not. She had that rare quality that has nearly disappeared in our society she actually listened to people including those she did not agree with. We at the Coalition keep her in our thoughts every day, and we try to react to injustice as Ione would react. What would Ione Do? She would be at the Peace Show supporting her friends and fellow activists. She would be at the vigil for peace on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attack. She would respectfully question the use of excessive force by the police in Cleveland Heights.

She would be organizing petitions, writing letters, and speaking out against this horrible war and the dreadful policies of the current administration which devastate the poor. She would have an answer for the state of fear gripping America, because I certainly do not. Ione would know how to fight the destruction of the current first amendment, and the expanding domestic spying by our own government. She certainly had a unique talent of cornering elected officials to get them to do the right thing, and she would have found a way to force the State of Ohio to get back in the business or reducing poverty. How could anyone turn down the All American Grandmother? She would be volunteering for the Coalition or other peace organizations. Ione had the unique talent of staying in contact with all the peace and justice organizations in the city, but we all felt that she was working exclusively on our issue.

Ione Biggs would find a way to break the racial or gender barriers that continue to exist in our community. She would be leading the charge to implement a real rehabilitation component to our criminal justice system. In a more enlightened time, Ione Biggs would have followed Howard Metzenbaum as Senator Biggs from Ohio. She was one of the strongest women in Cleveland, and we miss her.

I have no better way to express my sorrow than with Daniel's Words:

Those in power always want
Those in poverty to live on poetry
The best things in life are free
They're fond of saying. Of course
If you help yourself to what's
Second best, they lock you up
And if you tell them all you wanted
Was just a little bit more on your plate
They'll hit you with, Man shall not live
By bread alone. They certainly don't
They've got the bread and the gravy
The meat and potatoes, the Army
The Air Force, the Marines and the Navy
And what have we got? Our loneliness
And our need to break bread
For that sound breaks the silence between us
And out of that broken silence tumbles everything
A cornucopia of words to feed the heart
Night words that rise and fall with each breath
Each shadow, words as light as light
Whose wings brush against us
And we are never the same
Words that are famous
With only four letters
Like food, love, home, sing..."
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Donate On-Line Now

NEOCH Has Moved into the 21st Century

We have selected "Network for Good" as a secure way that you can support the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. If you find something useful or something helpful please give a few dollars to support the important work of the Coalition. If you appreciate our advocacy or our programs, we could use your help. If you have a relative who has become homeless or had experience with homelessness, please help the Coalition solve homelessness locally. We also could preserve your legacy with a gift from your estate. We are very good stewards of money from the public and will use your money as efficiently and effectively as possible.

On another note...there is an interesting discussion taking place at Callahan's site. There is a lot of pain on the West Side over the death of the artists in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood and the death of the police officer in the West 98th neighborhood. Low income advocates are commenting on a proposal made by Bill to hold landlords accountable for their tenants. Check it out.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

The Best Judge in Ohio

Federal Judge O'Malley Strikes Down Registration Rules

Federal judge Kathleen O'Malley proves once again why she is one of the best judges in the state of Ohio with her decision to strike down the new Ohio registration rules. O'Malley was the federal judge who sided with the Grapevine in our fight with Mayor Michael White who wanted us to get a city issued license to sell the street newspaper. She was overturned by the conservative 6th Circuit Appeals Court, but she was correct in the Grapevine case and now with the voting rules.

Our friend, Rev. Tony Minor and the NAACP filed suit to overturn this horrible new requirement to suppress voting registration activities. NEOCH had stopped registering people because the rules were so complicated and confusing. We thank O'Malley for throwing out these horrible rules. It raises the question about all the state legislators who should have listened to the League of Women Voters and all the other experts. Earlier this year, groups from all over the state came to Columbus to testify against this horrible piece of legislation (HB 3) to largely empty conference rooms. They should have listened, because we were correct. This law is now under fire for disenfranchising immigrants, the registration rules were thrown out, and Secretary of State is constantly misrepresenting the rules. The ID provision has confused County election boards, and will certainly be challenged after this part of the law messes up the November election. They "fixed" the irregularities and the lack of polling places in 2004 by blowing apart the whole system.

State legislators addressed a problem that did not exist in the face of the real problems with the 2004 election. They messed up the registration and voting regulations so that fewer people will cast a ballot. It is no wonder that most of the population holds politicians in such low regard, and most do not trust government. Voting, as the cornerstone of democracy, needs repair in Ohio. Where are you Jimmy Carter?

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.